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Breathing Life into the 6th Amendment

I watched and listened to the co-defendant's attorney passionately and charismatically argue for his client. I countered with points and authorities of my own. Our positions pitted us as adversaries but our arguments remained respectful.  Our contentions articulated thoroughly but with precision.  The judge denied my request and granted the co-defendant's continuance.  She reset the preliminary hearing date over my objection.  

The two young men, accused together of the same crime, sat shackled in the full courtroom. An attorney from the main public defender's office represented one while my colleague and I from the alternate public defender's office represented the other. With the preliminary hearing set just two days away, the case was on calendar for a status hearing. The sheriff's deputy announced the judge's presence with an emphatic “All Rise!” and her honor took the bench. The public defender and I stood next to our clients and made our appearances known for the record.  At the judge's prompting, we each launched into argument on behalf of our respective young men who, at this juncture, had divergent interests and different case postures. The co-defendant's attorney requested a continuance to further prepare while I emphasized our readiness and demanded that the court preserve our client's right to a speedy probable cause hearing, with or without the co-defendant. 

I watched and listened to the co-defendant's attorney passionately and charismatically argue for his client. I countered with points and authorities of my own. Our positions pitted us as adversaries but our arguments remained respectful.  Our contentions articulated thoroughly but with precision.  The judge denied my request and granted the co-defendant's continuance.  She reset the preliminary hearing date over my objection.  

I walked out not feeling loss or sadness.  Instead, I felt proud to be a freedom fighter alongside the co-defendant's counsel. In those moments, in that courtroom, we public defended. We were not second rate attorneys or overworked, under-qualified court appointed lawyers. We honored the profession. We stood firm as the weight of the state machine pressed down upon the two young men. We dignified the vulnerable clients entrusted to us. We, together as public defenders but standing apart for our clients, breathed life into the 6th Amendment, into the United States Constitution guarantee that an accused receive “the assistance of counsel for his defense.”

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